The wonderful thing about this art fair is that it doesn't feel like a fair. Each gallery has its own room that looks out onto the courtyard or the Thames, giving the whole affair a very relaxed feel, and its manageable size means that you can stroll around at your own pace.
As you make your way across the courtyard of Somerset House you will see Angolan artist Kiluanji Kia Henda's commission The Fortress, a comment on the ethereal nature of manmade structures. The metal frame forms the abstract remains of a building and is inspired by the artist's experiences in the Angolan desert. At its base, a mirror reflects the sky above, like a shimmering mirage.
Courtyard sculpture by Kiluanji Kia Henda. Photo: Katrina Sorrentino
When you enter the fair look out for the James Cohan gallery from New York, showing works by British Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare in the West Wing. Shonibare is possibly most famous for his Fourth Plinth commission, which took the form of a ship in a bottle with sails made of African fabrics. The works he has here – a bookcase with batik-print covers and a miniature stagecoach with an African twist – fit perfectly into the neo-classical surroundings. And be sure not to miss Bisa Butler's stunning portraits, sewn from colourful materials. She is exhibiting with the Clare Oliver Gallery on the first floor.
Here is everything else you need to know to make the most of your visit.
Look out for the vibrant photography of Ethiopian artist Aïda Muluneh. Her solo exhibition is presented by WaterAid and explores the lives of women who travel on foot to collect water in one of the most extreme environments on the planet. The works come together in the form of Afro-futurist tableaux, shot against the extreme and otherworldly backdrop of Dallol in Ethiopia, where the average annual temperature is 35°C. You can find the exhibition in the Great Arch Hall on the lower ground floor until 20 October.
Other photographic highlights include the work of Michel 'Papami' Kameni, who documented post-colonial Cameroon from 1963 onwards. Through his photographic archive, the aspirations and artistic output of a nation in transition are laid bare.
There are also a number of special projects, which are the product of artist residencies. One such display is courtesy of the Thread residency programme. The programme's organisers invite artists from around the world to work in their centre in eastern Senegal and the work of two participating artists – London photographer Silvia Rosi and painter Anne-Marie Akussah – exploring ideas of identity and migration.
A Reversed Retrogress: Scene 1 (The Purple Shall Govern) (2013), Mary Sibande (b. 1982). Courtesy of the artist and Gallery MOMO; © Mary Sibande
Mary Sibande: I Came Apart at the Seams
Mary Sibande is one of South Africa’s most celebrated contemporary artists. In 2011 She represented South Africa at the Venice Biennale, but only now is she having her first solo UK exhibition, which can be found in the Terrace Room in the South Wing. Much of Sibande’s work incorporates her alter ego, Sophie, a character made from casts of Sibande’s own body and face.
Sophie represents a deeply personal family identity, as well as a wider story of forced servitude under apartheid. Through Sophie, who wears costumes inspired by the uniforms of domestic workers, Sibande rewrites history and subverts stereotypes. Her costumes transform throughout the exhibition from blue to purple to red. With each stage she grows stronger, eventually becoming a powerful high priestess with healing abilities.
The exhibition will run from 3 October 2019 – 5 January 2020
Take a break
A communal lounge sits at the fair’s heart and provides a chance to chat and relax amid the bustle of the fair. This year's 1-54 Lounge is designed by Distill 2710 with decor inspired by Nigerian Yoruba fabric traditions and influenced by the work of artist Chief Nike Okundaye. The space showcases traditional batik techniques and indigo dyes, which are icons of the rich artistic heritage of West Africa.
The 1-54 Lounge. Photo: Katrina Sorrentino
Chuku's claims to be the world's first Nigerian tapas restaurant. The brainchild of siblings Emeka and Ifeyinwa Frederick, the eatery is currently a successful pop-up 'looking for a permanent home' and is serving up authentic flavours in the fair's lounge. Look out for dishes such as caramel kuli kuli chicken wings and vegan moi-moi tart.
|What||1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, Somerset House|
|Where||Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 1LA | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Temple (underground)|
03 Oct 19 – 06 Oct 19, 12:00 AM
|Price||£19 for early bird tickets|
|Website||Click here for more information|